Vatican says gender theory, surrogacy violate human dignity in ethics document

The Vatican has released a document criticizing gender theory, transgender surgery and surrogacy as affronts to human dignity.

Dignitas Infinita, Latin for “Infinite Dignity,” was released on Monday after more than five years in development by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) and focuses on threats to human dignity in the modern world.

“In the light of Revelation, the Church resolutely reiterates and confirms the ontological dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed in Jesus Christ,” the document states in its beginning.

Dignitas Infinita addresses over a dozen individual issues of the modern day through the lens of scripture and church teaching, including abortion, human trafficking, poverty, euthanasia, the death penalty, and more.

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Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith

Pope Francis meets with plenary assembly of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith during an audience at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. (Vatican Pool via Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

Notably, the document formally reaffirms and expands on the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding gender theory – which it holds as an inadmissible ideology – asserting that attempts to alter an individual’s immutable gender are ultimately misguided attempts to play God. 

“Regarding gender theory, whose scientific coherence is the subject of considerable debate among experts, the Church recalls that human life in all its dimensions, both physical and spiritual, is a gift from God,” the document states. “This gift is to be accepted with gratitude and placed at the service of the good. Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes, apart from this fundamental truth that human life is a gift, amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God, entering into competition with the true God of love revealed to us in the Gospel.”

It’s not a new stance for the church – Pope Francis, forced to confront the rapid rise of gender ideology in recent years, has previously called it one of the world’s “most dangerous ideological colonizations.”

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The document continues, “Another prominent aspect of gender theory is that it intends to deny the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference. This foundational difference is not only the greatest imaginable difference but is also the most beautiful and most powerful of them. In the male-female couple, this difference achieves the most marvelous of reciprocities. It thus becomes the source of that miracle that never ceases to surprise us: the arrival of new human beings in the world.”

Dignitas Infinita has been revised extensively over the past few months and was finally approved for publication by Pope Francis on March 25. Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect for the DDF, presented the document at a Monday press conference in Vatican City.

The document reaffirms the Church’s teachings on abortion, and also elaborates on its long-standing ethical criticisms of surrogate pregnancies, which it says are contrary to the pro-life position.

“The Church also takes a stand against the practice of surrogacy, through which the immensely worthy child becomes a mere object,” the document states.

“First and foremost, the practice of surrogacy violates the dignity of the child. Indeed, every child possesses an intangible dignity that is clearly expressed – albeit in a unique and differentiated way – at every stage of his or her life: from the moment of conception, at birth, growing up as a boy or girl, and becoming an adult,” the dicastery wrote in the document. “Because of this unalienable dignity, the child has the right to have a fully human (and not artificially induced) origin and to receive the gift of a life that manifests both the dignity of the giver and that of the receiver.”

Surrogacy via in vitro fertilization typically requires the artificial fertilization of multiple human embryos, some of which are often then perpetually frozen or destroyed.

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Victor Maneul Fernandez

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. (Isabella Bonotto/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Catholic Church maintains that human life must be protected and valued from the moment of conception to natural death, regardless of developmental stage or life circumstances. 

It has also voiced grave concern over the international industry surrounding surrogate pregnancies – couples from wealthy countries paying for their embryos to be brought to term by impoverished women in the Third World.

It continued, “Moreover, acknowledging the dignity of the human person also entails recognizing every dimension of the dignity of the conjugal union and of human procreation. Considering this, the legitimate desire to have a child cannot be transformed into a ‘right to a child’ that fails to respect the dignity of that child as the recipient of the gift of life.”

Dignitas Infinita offers insight into the Catholic Church’s perspective on more than 14 key ethical issues the Vatican believes require more intense consideration from society.

Pope Francis attends audience

Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican on Aug. 23, 2023.  (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

“Although not comprehensive, the topics discussed in this Declaration are selected to illuminate different facets of human dignity that might be obscured in many people’s consciousness,” the text reads. “Some topics may resonate more with some sectors of society than others. Nevertheless, all of them strike us as being necessary because, taken together, they help us recognize the harmony and richness of the thought about human dignity that flows from the Gospel.”

It’s not intended to be a complete and exhaustive guide to modern moral controversies, however, and instead is presented as a cursory glance at the most pressing affronts to human dignity.

It continues, “This Declaration does not set out to exhaust such a rich and crucial subject. Instead, its aim is to offer some points for reflection that can help us maintain an awareness of human dignity amid the complex historical moment in which we are living. This is so that we may not lose our way and open ourselves up to more wounds and profound sufferings amid the numerous concerns and anxieties of our time.”

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